Back to the beginning -- the laPavoni Europiccola & Professional lever
La Pavoni was founded in 1905 by Mr. Pavoni in a little workshop in Milan, Italy. His first invention was patented by Luigi Bezzera in 1902 and gave life to the very first espresso coffee machine. It had a vertical boiler kept at pressure by a gas ring, which it rested on, and supplied, from 1 to 4 side brewing groups.
In 1961, acting on an idea by a Milanese artisan, the first electrical machine for home use was created. This machine could brew espresso coffee and hot drinks, the same as in coffee bars and was called "Europiccola".
In 1974, the "Professional" was added, with a larger 16-cup boiler and equipped with a pressure gauge. In 2005 la Pavoni introduced the stylish Stradivari, a machine that sets new standards for discerning espresso lovers.
The Europiccola & Professional lever espresso makers represents timeless elegance, quality and reliability. These machines will never be out of fashion; the Professional is exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
My wife loved it the moment it came out of the box. Why? It is smaller than the industrial looking Rancilio Silvia and has a much smaller foot print. It also looks cool and has triggered numerous "ooh's and ahh's" from guests to the Coffee Crew test kitchen.
As we discovered, there has been an evolution in design and improvements in the Europiccola & Professional lever espresso makers. The group has been enlarged to 53.5 mm but the basket diameter is 51.5 mm (up from 49mm). This was done to improve the heat stability of the overall group. This is a major improvement over the old smaller group, which tended to heat up during repeated brewing. Our tasting team really saw a marked improvement in shot quality over the older Pavoni designs (to be reviewed shortly).
In the details: The new group is referred to as Millennium.
Furthermore, this generation of laPavoni Europiccola & Professional lever espresso machines added a pressure-stat to the boiler to improve the overall performance. The original Europiccola’s used a dual-switch 2 element heating system that kept users on their toes watching the temperature.
Reg James of EspressoTec.Com loaned us the demo units for unlimited testing. This is what we found.
The laPavoni is not for the uninitiated or impatient. The Europiccola & Professional espresso makers demand perfect espresso, ground precisely each and every time and a rock steady hand. All lever espresso makers demand constant attention to detail. Failing this guarantees failure, misery and despair.
In the Box
The laPavoni Europiccola & Professional lever machines come in a single cardboard box with form-fitting foam insert that doubles as kit holder for all the accessories. At 7kg or 16 pounds, the laPavoni Europiccola & Professional Lever comes with 1 51.5mm portafilter as well as the ubiquitous plastic tamper, coffee scoop and instructional video. A multi-page and multilingual manual gives you just enough information to get started in no time at all. Do yourself a favor. Buy a bag of good espresso coffee and make sure you have a burr grinder of equal or better caliber (or have it ground locally) -- and good luck!
Missing pieces and annoyances?
The laPavoni Europiccola and Professional use a brass portafilter with non-captive stainless steel 51.5mm coffee basket inserts. The non-captive baskets mean way more fuss when you are attempting to knock out spent coffee. I found myself holding the p-filter a certain way with my thumbnail on the lip of the coffee basket and tapping it into my knock box - this avoids burning my finger. Would a captive coffee basket set laPavoni back that many Euros to do this right? I do not think so. For this reason, I knocked my overall impression of the Europiccola from a "9" to an "8" out of ten.
The laPavoni lever units contain VHS Tapes in the kit - Instructional video would be good for any lever machine and the Europiccola is no exception. The laPavoni video is complete - well sort of. Short of spoiling the surprise, it does not do the product justice. There is way more to mastering the lever than a 7 minute video tape - albeit one that is off the mark. And there are aspects of the video that are way off the mark. I guess that is why there are WebPages like this one!
Time honored artisan construction
The laPavoni series of lever machines represent a dying breed of hand-tooled artisan products. Part of the included video is snippets of the manufacturing process - processes that have not fundamentally changed in years. Improvements include materials significantly more corrosion resistant than laPavoni's of recent vintage.
The laPavoni Professional Red Rally Anniversary edition (the unit tested) is smallish at (at 32cm - 12.6" of height)- shorter than most machines so keep this in mind when you are sizing up a machine for your kitchen. At 11" of depth and 8" of counter width, the laPavoni is compact - in tiny kitchens (like mine) this is a big plus. It takes up significantly less space than my Silvia (which is a brute) and is way easier to shove out of the way when cooking or working on other domestic stuff.
The laPavoni Europiccola & Professional espresso lever is simple in all respects. One green illuminated power switch is all you have to deal with. The laPavoni lever uses a 1000-watt heating element for reasonably quick heat-up. I found that 7 to 10 minutes with a few flushes from the boiler was sufficient to get everything up to temperature. The laPavoni Europiccola & Professional have a sight glass for eyeballing the water level. When filling the boiler, I fill to within a few inches of the top - you can use the sight-glass if you wish. Warning - watch your water levels! Running the laPavoni without water will ensure a short life of the heating element. The Europiccola & Professional is protected with an over-heat reset and a pressure-stat keeps the boiler pressure at a steady 1.0 ATM - keep in mind that the boiler pressure is there to push water to the brew group, not to assist in or brew espresso. You are the power plant here folks. You are still the machine. The "16-cup" Professional series has a pressure gauge - the standard "8-cup" Europiccola does not.
The boiler is about 1.0 L, and nickel-plated brass. The laPavoni Europiccola & Professional use a pressure stat to eliminate the worry or need to temperature surf - the boiler (and steam) water is more precisely regulated by a P-Stat over a bimetal T-Stat. Like all lever machines, raising the lever lifts the hydraulic piston, which then allows the pre-heated boiler water to fill the piston cylinder, which comes into contact with the espresso coffee.
After a period of pre-infusion (which you control), lowering the lever forces this water through the espresso grounds. Espresso can be made without interruption until the water level drops to with a few inches of the bottom of the sight glass - pay strict attention to this detail! The downside of this system is that fresh water can be only be added after everything has cooled down or all pressure has been relieved from the boiler - Never unscrew the top of the laPavoni lever unit when there is live steam pressure - scalding water can scar or disfigure.
I reiterate with the warning: The success you have with the laPavoni lever is entirely dependant on your ability; to pick perfectly fresh espresso coffee, to grind it with a semi-commercial grinder the same over and over and your ability to raise and lower the lever arm according to whatever phase the moon is in that particular day. Failure to understand the mood or Zen space of the laPavoni lever espresso maker will result in truly awful espresso. Your ability to get into the "lever espresso groove" (more on that later) will guarantee you breath-taking shots of espresso again and again. Good luck!
Some sobering thoughts (and requirements)!
You are still the machine. There is no other method of espresso brewing like the lever. A couple more rules:
* The laPavoni Europiccola Lever (and Professional etc) is not for the newbie to espresso, those who are easily frustrated or distracted from the task at hand or for anyone who is trying to impress someone with this method of espresso brewing. It will break you if you do not give it the respect it deserves.
* Without the requisite understanding of how espresso is brewed, there can be no success with the laPavoni Lever (or any lever espresso maker for that matter)
* Any success (without above knowledge) is purely coincidental and cannot be counted on.
* You need a burr grinder like the Rocky, Gaggia MDF, Solis Maestro Plus or Baratza Virtuoso
* A knock-box for spent grounds is a must have.
The laPavoni Europiccola & Professional lever espresso makers reward patient and diligent consumers with inspirational shots of espresso and enough steam power to brew an endless lineup of cappuccino, latte and other equally tasty specialty coffee beverages.
The Sacred ground that is your kitchen
The laPavoni Europiccola (and Professional) is a solidly built unit and there is some physicality involved in pulling (or pushing) shots of espresso. You will be pushing down at 10 pounds of pressure or more. You must have a solid surface. Kitchen counter tops are perfect. Glass tables are not perfect! Understand this: You will add inches to your biceps with time. Understand your surroundings and the integrity of the work surface! I found the Europiccola to be somewhat easier to deal with than the Gaggia Achille. I do not know why at this time - but I did find that I needed to do half the work to achieve twice the results - that issue will be revisited with time.
Impatient? Try again tomorrow
As with any espresso machine, let it warm up. The laPavoni lever has big chunks of metal to heat up. Let it warm up. Everything has to be too hot to touch if it is really ready to brew shots of espresso that would make anyone proud.
Prior to first power-up, fill the boiler to the upper sight line and screw on the boiler cap (good and tight.) Flip the one power switch. In about 7 minutes or so, the pressure gauge will start to creep up towards 1.0 ATM - yea, gauges are fun to watch. You will hear lots of gurgling and rumbling prior to any activity on the pressure gauge - nothing to worry about here.
Under normal conditions, the laPavoni lever series are capable of delivering about 7 minutes of continuous steam power - judging by the steam that I encountered, I calculated that I could foam/steam about 12 fluid ounces of 2% milk in about 45 seconds. Results will vary.
Heat-up trick: with a suitable espresso or cappuccino cup under the group, raise and lower the lever quickly a few times to pull some heating water into the brew head and portafilter. This water will end up in your cup. This will assist in heating the lever unit.
You still are the machine
The laPavoni Europiccola & Professional lever demands attention to detail. Precise grind and fresh espresso is key to success. Not only that, but your ability to raise the lever, to pre-infuse the coffee for about 7 seconds and your ability to lower the lever at exactly the right speed is key to shots of espresso any champion barista would be proud of. Dave Reimer (of Vancouver) and I pulled shots of espresso today that would not be out of place in the World's best cafes. Two days ago I was pulling shots unworthy of consumption. Practice makes perfect.
Follow-up and in closing- Resources
The laPavoni Europiccola & Professional lever espresso continues in the time-honored tradition of artisan (hand-crafted) espresso makers. It rewards focused home barista with stunning shots of espresso worthy of inclusion in any specialty coffee beverage; cappuccino, latte, macchiato and the like.
The unit under test was the La Pavoni Professional Red Rally “Anniversary” Edition - It comes in Rally Red or Citrus Orange, but chrome and black base and all-brass are also available. We fell in love with it instantly. No surprise! These machines are challenging - no question. If you have the patience and are willing to put in the necessary apprenticeship, then the laPavoni lever series of manual espresso makers might be perfect for you.
Quick Review for the confused
The La Pavoni Europiccola comes in an 8-cup model with no gauge.
The La Pavoni Professional comes in a 16-cup model with pressure gauge.
Coffee Crew rating - 8 out of a possible 10 | represents excellent value with a higher than average level of user difficulty.
Colin Newell lives and works in Victoria B.C. at a local University. His love of coffee began at the age of 15. He had his first espresso-cappuccino at age 19 and has never looked back. The Coffee Crew website has been on the air profiling cafe culture and consumer issues for the coffee lover since the spring of 1994.